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HSDTC Annual Research Symposium

The HSDTC Annual Research Symposium is open to all PhD students in the Health Faculties at King's College London, and is your chance to meet and network with fellow doctoral researchers, to showcase your research through a poster presentation, and to gain valuable new skills and insights through mini-masterclasses.

Annual Research Symposium 2020

Have your say in 2020!

This year the HSDTC Annual Research Symposium will be a student-led event. We're looking for PhD students in the Health Faculties at King's who want to get involved and have a say in how your HSDTC Symposium is run.

As part of the Organising Committee, you'll have the chance to choose a theme for this year's event, work with a budget provided by the HSDTC, invite speakers and other participants, and get some experience with organising a high profile event.

If you're interested in being a part of the Organising Committee, please email hs-dtc@kcl.ac.uk by 9am on Friday 1 November 2019, letting us know in under 100 words why you want to be involved, what you hope to learn, and what you can bring to the Symposium.

We'll then have an initial meeting in the afternoon of Wednesday 6 November 2019 at the Waterloo Campus to discuss the next steps. The Symposium is provisionally scheduled to take place in February 2020 at the Strand Campus.

Annual Research Symposium 2019

Our Keynote Speaker for the 2019 Symposium was Frank Kelly, Professor of Environmental Health at King's. Professor Kelly spoke on the subject of Air Quality and Health: How King's Environmental Research Group is Serving Society.

The winners of the inaugural HSDTC Science Communication Competition and the HSDTC Science Image Competition were also announced at the Symposium (see below on this page for winners and shortlisted entries), along with 2019's HSDTC Poster Prize:


Nicholas Merrild   HSDTC Poster Prize 2019 First Prize
Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences

Investigating conditions for successful articular cartilage integration to inform on future tissue engineering strategies


Claire McQuitty   HSDTC Poster Prize 2019 Second Prize
Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine

Optimisation and validation of a 3D-dynamic model of liver fibrosis


HSDTC Science Communication Competition 2019

PhD students at King's were invited to submit a short ‘newspaper style’ article on their research topic. The article must have been based on the research they are currently engaged with, or that their group is doing, whether that be the whole project or one aspect of it. The article should have been aimed at a non-specialist audience and be understandable to an interested member of the public. The judges were looking for articles which: are compelling to read and easily understandable; clearly explain the research being done; answer the question “why does this research matter?”; and are worthy of publication in a national newspaper.

Lucy Ann Chester   First Prize
Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

Cannabis: Can it be ‘Safe’?

Cannabis sativa, also known as ‘weed’, ‘skunk’ or ‘marijuana’, is the mostly commonly used illicit substance in the world. According to the UK Drug Report 2018, more people are seeking medical help for problems relating to cannabis use than ever before; and whilst some users claim to suffer no ill-effects, evidence has emerged that it can cause addiction and possibly increase the risk of schizophrenia.

Blame is laid on tetrahydrocannabinol, known as ‘THC’. This is the chemical that produces the ‘high’ when taking cannabis, as well as paranoia and addiction in some cases. Cannabidiol, or ‘CBD’, is the second most abundant chemical in cannabis after THC. Whilst the effect of CBD might not feel obvious to users, it has been shown to relieve anxiety and protect against the negative effects of THC.

Crucially, it’s the balance between these two chemicals that determines how cannabis will affect people. But how much CBD do you need to stop cannabis making you unwell? Our study aims to find out.

Since November 2017, our group at KCL have been giving cannabis to healthy, drug-free volunteers in the name of science. At each visit, a participant inhales 10mg THC and either 0, 10, 20 or 30mg CBD, with only a computer knowing exactly which dose they’re getting. When testing is complete, we will be able to determine which ratio of chemicals caused the least problems.

And it’s not just the negative effects of cannabis being monitored; participants are also asked to rate their enjoyment of chocolate, music and the ‘stoned’ feeling itself. This links to the ultimate aim of the study: to find an alternative, safer cannabis. If our ‘safest’ drug is less enjoyable than what’s on the streets, it may not be acceptable to problem users.

Around the world more countries and states are changing the law around cannabis, both as a medicine and a recreational high. Whether the UK will follow suit is up for debate. One thing that is certain, though, is that this discovery will put us when step closer to knowing exactly what is ‘safe’.

Anastasia Paraskevi Aliferi   Joint Second Prize
Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine

Researchers at King’s College London now have a way to tell your age by examining a single drop of your blood

The Forensic Genetics group at King’s College London have recently published an article in Forensic Science International Genetics describing how they can use blood to estimate someone’s age. Starting with a single blood drop, this method can be used to calculate a person’s exact age give or take 4 years. Acquiring this kind of information from a blood stain can prove crucial for challenging police investigations that could otherwise turn into cold cases.

It has been shown that a person’s DNA sequence can reveal information such as their eye and hair colour, or even indicate their country of origin. Estimating someone’s age, however, is a next level challenge for scientists, as a person’s DNA sequence does not change with age. To overcome this, researchers focused on a chemical modification of the DNA molecules that can deactivate genes without affecting the actual sequence. This modification, called ‘methylation’, turns genes ‘on’ and ‘off’ as we age following a pattern that is yet to be fully understood. However, using artificial intelligence, King’s scientists have now decoded a small fraction of this pattern that can be used to estimate age from DNA.

These findings could help form the next great tool for forensic investigators across the globe. The main application for this technology will be helping the police build profiles for unknown individuals involved in crime investigations. However, forensic units from different countries are already suggesting different angles to take with this tool. Of those, undoubtedly the most ethically controversial is the age verification of immigrants claiming to be minors for legal reasons. In any case, extensive validation is required before this technology is used in real cases, which means there might be years before police officers get their hands on it.

The take home message from this research is that age leaves an imprint on our DNA that we can now decipher. So, you might want to take this into account before celebrating your 28th birthday for the third time.

Emily Read   Joint Second Prize
Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine

Using mini-guts to model inflammatory bowel disease

New techniques that recreate the gut in a petri dish could help researchers understand the causes of inflammatory bowel disease.

Approximately 1 in 200 people across the UK live with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a chronic condition that causes severe diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. The causes of IBD are unknown, however, factors such as genetics, diet and the bacteria that live in our gut are known to have a role. The complexity of this disease has made it difficult to study, which has limited the number of available treatments.

What is being done?

A recent advance in stem cell technology has allowed researchers to recreate the gut in a petri dish. The technique involves taking stem cells from the lining of the gut and growing them as microscopic ‘mini-guts’ that are also known as organoids. Scientists at King’s College London are growing these mini-guts with the immune cells and gut bacteria that are known to contribute to inflammation in IBD. This system mimics real-life conditions more closely than studying each component individually and reduces our reliance on animal testing.

Why is this research important?

By combining these components in a controlled environment, the researchers are able investigate how the interactions between the lining of the gut, immune cells and bacteria trigger inflammation. Studies have shown that certain bacteria are more common in the gut of patients with IBD. The mini-gut system is being used to understand how these ‘bad bacteria’ create inflammation by compromising the lining of the gut and stimulating gut-resident immune cells. A better understanding of these early events in IBD will hopefully enable development of new targeted therapies.

What’s next?

The researchers hope to create a full human model of IBD in a dish, using stem cells, immune cells and bacteria derived from patients. This will allow them to make comparisons with healthy individuals to find out which disease mechanisms are common in IBD and how they vary person to person. Once established, this system will be used to screen novel IBD treatments.

Laura Meade   Shortlisted Entry
Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine

Mind the Gap: supporting patients with chronic pain conditions

Researchers at King’s College London are working towards enhancing the treatment of chronic pain. An online intervention of an exercise programme and psychological support is currently being offered to people with chronic pain, such as low back pain and osteoarthritis. 25% of people in the UK suffer from chronic pain, costing the NHS over £5 million per year.  Exercise has previously been found to reduce pain and increase quality of life for chronic pain sufferers, but less than half of these patients complete the exercises prescribed by their healthcare practitioner. Existing research shows that patients may benefit from additional resources between their physiotherapy appointments to support their exercise efforts. Lead researcher on the project Laura Meade stated, “many of our participants express frustration with their current care, and that they struggle to manage their conditions”. This online intervention, the MEADE protocol (Managing Exercise ADhErence) works alongside regular physiotherapy by providing psychological support with a type of talking therapy called motivational interviewing and aids patients in developing exercise plans with an exercise app called Physitrack. The intervention provides structured support to patients, helping them address, and overcome, barriers to maintaining their prescribed exercises. The intervention was piloted on ten participants with positive results. Gemma, a patient in the study who suffers from fibromyalgia (widespread pain throughout the body) said “there aren’t really any good opportunities to get psychological support. I think that’s the big gap for people that have chronic pain, and this was just as good as therapy”. Online care is becoming more popular in the NHS and the use of exercise apps and video chats allow for greater accessibility to help patients manage their conditions. The researchers say the next steps are to continue the project with more patients to measure longer term outcomes. These findings may support the increased availability of additional resources to help these patients better manage their chronic pain conditions.

HSDTC Science Image Competition 2019

PhD students at King's were invited to submit an image which tells their research story. Submitted images needed to convey either the totality, or an aspect, of the research that they do. Images could have shown, for example, the subject matter of their research, such as an image of cells or the brain, or research in action, for example the methods, equipment or facilities used in their research.

We were looking for images which might explore the social impact that their research has on a global, population, or individual scale. They may be a true representation of the subject, or manipulated post-production, such as with false colouring; or they could show their research in a more abstract way. We were open to entries created by many techniques, including but not limited to: photography; microscopy; medical imaging; new and emerging imaging techniques; data visualisation; artistic media.

The judges were looking for images which are: informative; captivating; and which clearly communicate the research being done.

Anastasia Aliferi   First Prize
Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine

Can DNA reveal our age?

Chemical structures called ‘methyl-groups’ attach to our DNA with a different pattern at different stages of our life as they play a key role in controlling the expression of genes. Decoding that pattern can help us estimate someone’s age when all we have available is their DNA, like for example from a crime scene stain. This image is an artistic representation of the topic and was created using Microsoft PowerPoint.

Aliferi, Anastasia - HSDTC Science Image Competition 2019 Image

Richard Taylor   Second Prize
Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

Elucidating the mechanisms of RNA regulation underpinning axon development in zebrafish motor neurons

This image shows cells from zebrafish embryos dissociated 24 hours post fertilisation, and cultured for 6 days in media containing neurotrophic factors. The culture was fixed and stained to visualise all cell nuclei, motor neuron morphology and all neuronal projections. Cell nuclei are labelled by DAPI in blue. Axonal processes from all neurons are labelled red by targeting acetylated-tubulin. Motor neurons, which, in the animal, innervate muscles and induce their contraction, express green fluorescent protein (GFP), and therefore fluoresce green. Neurons seem to cluster and extend out axons toward each other, as well as towards those in neighbouring clusters.

The image was taken during the second year of my PhD, as part of a set of experiments undertaken to optimise the growth of healthy and mutant zebrafish neurons on transwell inserts. Cell bodies sit on top of a Polyethylene Terephthalate membrane whilst neuronal projections grow through tiny pores and adhere to the underside of the membrane.

Following optimisation I was able to sever the neuronal projections from their cell bodies, and collect them for RNAseq. This allowed me to identify all of the RNAs present in growing healthy axons, and compare them to those in mutant axons. By taking this approach, we can learn more about the local regulation of RNAs in axons, which underpins their development. Furthermore, we can also better our understanding of how perturbed local regulation of RNA is relevant to neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS.

Taylor, Richard - HSDTC Science Image Competition 2019 Image

Ellie Alberts   Shortlisted Entry
Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine

Dynamic interplay of immune cells in gut inflammation

This image is human colon tissue, was taken using the imaging mass cytometry technique, where metal tagged antibodies have bound to various immune cells, a few highlighted here (Cyan = E-Cadherin, Red = CD68, Blue = CD45, Magenta = CD4 and Green = CD20). This picture represents the interactions and behaviour of various immune cells within gut homeostasis, and how furthering our understanding of this can contribute to the development of precision medicine when treating patients with intestinal inflammatory disorders. This was taken using the programme MCD viewer, after importing images displaying individual channels into a the software and merging the images.

Alberts, Ellie - HSDTC Science Image Competition 2019 Image

Rayane Chami   Shortlisted Entry
Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

We are more than our mean amplitudes

This is a photo of brain activity recorded using electroencephalography (EEG). It portrays my brain activity as I tested the machinery. In this image, every independent horizontal line represents brain activity from one electrode and one part of the scalp. Due to faulty electrodes, the overlaying components can be seen over the expected brain activity, resembling an aquarelle painting. The brain activity from faulty electrodes do not simply merge with activity of other electrodes, they overlay them as independent yet salient reminders of all we cannot yet explain. To me, this image reflects the layers of our identities. Who we are may not be a simple sum of our brain activity, but may also involve all the experiences that science cannot explain yet. We mistakenly learn to see neuroimaging as an infallible and advanced technique, the same way we see our identity as one that remains constant and reliable. Given that this is often not the case, the fluctuation of amplitudes across time is a good representation of the impact our experiences have on who we are. The only manipulation to the image was a black and white filter applied.

Chami, Rayane - HSDTC Science Image Competition 2019 Image

Stuart Smith   Shortlisted Entry
Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

Detecting difference: Change in the brains of children with Rolandic epilepsy in seizure remission

This image represents brain development over four and half years in healthy participants and those with Rolandic epilepsy (RE) between childhood and adolescence. The image was generated using longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and advanced computational techniques which can detect differences in the outer layer of the brain called the cortex at a sub-millimetre scale. This technique is useful in the study of RE, as the epilepsy has no apparent cause, seizures generally stop with or without the use of anti-epileptic drugs and clinical MRI scans will be comparable to those seen in healthy children. What is remarkable about this image is that it shows a difference in brain development between children with RE and healthy children. These images will help in our understanding of the cause and co-occurring cognitive problems in children with Rolandic epilepsy.

Statistically significant thinning (p=<0.05) of the cortex represented in blue, thickening in red. Left half of image: Left brain hemisphere. Right half of image: Right brain hemisphere. Images in columns 2 and 3 corrected for multiple statistical comparisons. Upper row: Changes in cortical thickness in healthy participants, Middle row: Changes in cortical thickness in participants with RE. Lower row: Statistical differences between the two groups, with age as a nuisance factor. The yellow region represents a statistically significant (p=< 0.05) increased thinning of the cortex in children with RE. This region is within the left frontal lobe and extends into the insula. Images were created using the open source Freesurfer software https://surfer.nmr.mgh.harvard.edu/. Plastic-wrap effect added using Microsoft PowerPoint.

Smith, Stuart - HSDTC Science Image Competition 2019 Image


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